You can order a coronavirus salad, but not coronavirus medical supplies.

Until last week, when he suddenly had a fit at General Motors, Donald Trump had said again and again that while he could use that Defense Production Act to order American companies to prioritize making medical supplies that are needed to fight the coronavirus, it would be a cold day in Caracas before he did socialism to America!

But you know, we're a country not based on nationalizing our business. Call a person over in Venezuela, ask them how did nationalization of their businesses work out? Not too well.

Now sure, there's the teensy detail that the Defense Production Act doesn't actually nationalize anything, as the smartypants fact-checkers all pointed out. But it does allow the US government to order companies to fulfill its contracts before others, and to loan money and do other fun financial stuff to get stuff done. It can even direct companies to sell their stuff to the government ahead of other customers. But the companies are still private, and they still get paid.

And as the New York Times explains in some detail, the law has been used once or twice during the Trump administration already. Once or twice? More like it's been used to "place hundreds of thousands of orders" during the Trump years, just as it has been during every other presidency. It's so routine that the military regularly invokes it in contracts:

The Defense Department estimates that it has used the law's powers 300,000 times a year. The Department of Homeland Security — including its subsidiary, FEMA — placed more than 1,000 so-called rated orders in 2018, often for hurricane and other disaster response and recovery efforts, according to a report submitted to Congress in 2019 by a committee of federal agencies formed to plan for the effective use of the law.

Oh. Well then, guess we're already Venezuela, so let's use the law to save some lives, please? And get some empanadas too, while we're at it.


So why is Trump acting like using it to ramp up production of ventilators, or of protective equipment for healthcare workers, would somehow mean we're Venezuela? Mostly because the act is seldom used outside defense/security contracts, so other agencies, even under previous presidents, have been reluctant to make use of it. But Trump, who usually loves acting like King Shit of Fuck Mountain, has other reasons to avoid using his executive power this time, the Times suggests:

People familiar with the president's thinking say he has been skeptical of using the law, seeing it as anti-American. But politics may have also influenced Mr. Trump's decision. The president has repeatedly tried to deflect responsibility for the most significant crisis on American soil in decades. Using the Defense Production Act would make it clear that the government is in charge.

Plus, using the DPA for something trivial like saving lives, as opposed to making sure munitions (or trucks, or military-grade toilet seats) are delivered on time, might make members of the Republican donor class sad:

Many corporate executives have also lobbied the Trump administration against using the act, saying they fear that more government intervention and bureaucracy at a time of intense supply chain disruptions could do more harm than good.

"The Defense Production Act isn't a magic wand," said Neil Bradley, the executive vice president and chief policy officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

"It can't produce highly specialized manufacturing equipment overnight," he added. "It can't convert a refrigerator factory into a ventilator factory."

As for the one specific directive Trump has made under the law, the Times points out, it's not even clear General Motors needed to be ordered to make ventilators, because GM

had already announced its intention to collaborate with the medical device firm Ventec Life Systems to produce ventilators.

After the president threatened on Friday to invoke the Defense Production Act against G.M., the automaker announced that the venture would aim to produce up to 10,000 ventilators a month.

As the Times article explains in more detail, the administration could have already been using the law to speed up production of essential medical supplies, by leapfrogging past the usual lengthy bidding and contracting process. There's kind of an emergency going on, not that Trump always seems aware of it.

"What's more important? Building an aircraft carrier or a frigate using priority ratings or saving a hundred thousand lives using priorities for ventilators?" said Larry Hall, who retired in August as the director of the Defense Production Act program division at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "If we used the president's logic, most of our economy is already nationalized. But it isn't" [...]

While FEMA and Health and Human Services have discussed the law in training situations, Mr. Hall said he often had to press his superiors to prepare for its use in the event of a national emergency, such as a pandemic.

"They had the authority to do this years ago," Mr. Hall said. "They could have filled up the medical stockpile with priority ratings if they thought it was necessary."

Aha! Years ago? Well there's Trump's out! It's all Obama's fault!

[NYT / NPR]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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